Metropoils M by Zoë Gray

Stefanos Tsivopoulos is not an artist with a large ego. Indeed, if there is a single gesture that characterizes his practice, it is one of withdrawal. He establishes a framework or a set of parameters, and then steps back to see what will happen. This almost scientific approach is exciting in that it allows a very real possibility of failure, while setting the stage for new discoveries. Through these frameworks and the techniques of mise-en-abyme he employs in his installations, Tsivopoulos unpacks the fictionalisation of reality.

Play (2006) and Actors (2004) are two video installations for which Tsivopoulos recorded improvisation sessions. The setting for Actors is a claustrophobic room, containing four army bunks, filmed with a fixed camera. Tsivopoulos met with each of his four actors prior to filming, to define the character of the soldier they would play, then brought them together and filmed their unscripted interaction over the course of seven hours. In the 35-minute film, we witness the shifting power relations between the men, determined largely by their physique. The work was influenced by the artist’s experience of military service and his observations of the personae adopted – and discarded – by his fellow conscripts. This film is viewed through a Perspex screen, with two monitors placed in front of the larger projection. On these, we see the actors talking together out of character, analysing their improvised interaction, highlighting the simultaneous theatricality and authenticity of this a social experiment as deconstructed reality TV.

For Play, Tsivopoulos worked with five male drama students from Amsterdam. The work consists of a video projection through a closed room – which the visitor cannot enter – strewn with clothes and props. Outside, each young man is portrayed in a large photograph: self-confident headshots in which they resemble footballers or models. A monitor plays a series of audition interviews where they reveal their ambitions, diverse family backgrounds and filmic role models (Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson emerging as favourites). Before the improvisation began, Tsivopolous gave them stills from news footage, images related to issues of violence, abuse and power mechanisms, as well as masculinity, as a source of inspiration. Casting themselves in different roles, dressed in army fatigues, jeans and T-shirts, or Middle Eastern clothing, they played out images rather than characters, in tense shifting tableaux that make for uneasy viewing.

In recent projects, Tsivopoulos has moved away from the theatrical to focus on film and its inherently subjective nature. The Interview (2007) analysed journalistic conventions and the production of historical narrative. Adopting the role of producer, Tsivopoulos commissioned a BBC reporter to interview a Serb veteran in a location chosen by the artist. The correspondent produced a professional, “neutral” interview.  Tsivopoulos gave the transcript to a Serbian filmmaker and asked him to make a fictional version, shot at the same location. The resulting work comprises the two versions, with the fictionalized interview seeming more truthful than the “objective” documentary. When invited in 2007 to participate in the first Athens Biennale, Tsivopoulos decided to explore recent Greek history, or more specifically, its televised history. The Remake (2007) uses footage from the early days Greek national television, combining archival film of public spectacles organised under the 1967 dictatorship with recreated scenes of the television studios, its equipment and staff. In the background of several shots, monitors show imagery from the Apollo moon landings, evoking America’s ongoing influence on Greek politics. This is the most controlled of his works to date, marking perhaps a shift in his practice. Nevertheless, Tsivopoulos maintains his discreet position of the artist as observer, putting social history centre stage and keeping himself behind the scenes.